Central city improvement is tracked

Spending has gone toward housing, public works and roads.
Monday, January 2, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:46 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Linda LaVere can remember when Donnelly Avenue in west-central Columbia had no sidewalks, curbs or gutters. It was an ugly and unimproved street that drained poorly during rainstorms.

Today, however, Donnelly Avenue is much better. The city rebuilt it earlier this year to include all the standard amenities that come with a good street: smooth pavement, curbs and gutters that actually move runoff away and clean sidewalks. That’s right, sidewalks.

“It was tore up for so long,” said LaVere, who is a financial associate with Calvary Baptist Church, which has an entrance off Donnelly. She called the repairs the city made “wonderful.”

The Donnelly Avenue improvement, which cost $310,000, is one of several projects and programs listed in a report to the City Council this month that documents the city’s spending in the central city during the past five years. First Ward Councilwoman Almeta Crayton asked for the report so she could find out where the city stands on central city projects and where it might make improvements.

City Planning Director Tim Teddy said in the report to the council that there has been “a substantial and effective effort to improve living conditions and quality of life in the area.”

Among the report’s findings:

  • The city spent an average of nearly $1.3 million per year, some of it federal money, on homeownership assistance and housing rehabilitation programs in central city neighborhoods. Demand for the programs is so great that the city in recent months has had to tighten eligibility guidelines.
  • About 19 percent of the Public Works Department’s contracted projects from 2000 through 2005 were done in the First Ward. The total cost of those projects was about $3.3 million. Total spending in all other wards was about $13.8 million.
  • The Parks and Recreation Department’s operating budget for First Ward programs averaged $402,697 per year during the time period, while its capital projects spending in the area averaged $165,296.

Other major projects cited in the report included major improvements to Sixth Street between Wilkes Boulevard and Hickman Avenue ($307,282); reconstruction of Fourth Avenue between Garth Avenue and Providence Road ($199,651); and several storm-water and sewer projects.

Linda Rootes of the North Central Columbia Neighborhood Association said she generally had been pleased with how the city spends money in her area.

“I always felt north-central Columbia got a lot of improvements because we asked and went to meetings. We testified, wrote letters and collected signatures on petitions,” Rootes said.

Michael Martin, a property owner and landlord in the First Ward, disagrees with the premise that the city is making a significant contribution to the area, noting that significant chunks of the money comes from federal Community Development Block Grants. Much of the First Ward is eligible for CDBG spending because its residents have low to moderate incomes. Martin said the city gives considerably more of its own money to the affluential areas of town.

“The city is saying it is putting significant money into the area, and I see (in the reports) the federal government putting money into it,” he said.

Tom Lata of the Planning and Development Department said the money is well-targeted.

“Overall, spending’s gone up. We’ve spread it out and tackled a lot more,” Lata said. “We could probably spend more there as a percentage, but we could spend more everywhere.”

Missourian reporter Matthew Heindl contributed to this report.

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